Back to This Week's Parsha| Previous Issues

Weekly Chizuk


The Power of Mesiras Nefesh

You, in Your abounding mercies, stood by them in the time of their distress. You waged their battles, defended their rights, and avenged the wrong done to them. You delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the wanton sinners into the hands of those who occupy themselves with Your Torah. - Al Hanisim

Adapted from Marchei Lev by Rav Moshe Schwab, zt"l.

Our usual reaction to the miracles mentioned in this tefilla is that all aspects of Nature are in the hands of Hakadosh Baruch Hu. Directing everything from above, He is the one who wages our battles. He is in total control.

There is an additional lesson to be garnered from Al Hanisim. The Chashmonaim - the "weak", the "few", the "pure", and the "tzaddikim" - mentioned in this prayer merited a miracle due to their mesiras nefesh. What we have to probe is exactly what gave them the courage to fight against all odds in opposition to all logic and reason.

Bitachon Brings Siyata D'shmaya

One of the strengths of a person, which is the basis for acquiring bitachon, is his ability internalize emuna until it is totally clear to him that whatever the Ribono Shel Olam wants, will happen whether naturally or unnaturally. This idea becomes so obvious that he is willing to give up everything for it. The result is he most certainly will receive siyata d'shmaya (Heavenly help). We all know the saying; nothing stands in the way of a person's will. Even more so regarding avodas Hashem. If one has iron will, he most certainly will merit siyata d'shmaya.

It was this strength that brought the band of Chashmonaim to wage a war against the imperial army of the Greek Empire. Today, thousands of years after it was waged, we haven't an inkling how a bunch of weakly Yeshiva bochurim went out to fight a lost battle, while so many of their fellow Yidden were yielding and becoming Hellenized. It was only because the Chashmonaim understood that this was Hashem's will, so they didn't see the war as lost: they only saw the righteousness of their cause.

We find an example of this in a story in the gemara Taanis (19b) (based on the commentary of the Alter from Novhardok in Madreigos Ha'adom):

Our Rabbis have taught: Once it happened when all Israel came up on pilgrimage to Jerusalem that there was no water available for drinking. Thereupon Nakdimon ben Gurion approached a certain [non-Jewish] nobleman and said to him: Loan me twelve wells of water for the Pilgrims and I will repay you twelve wells of water; and if I do not, I will give you instead twelve talents of silver, and he fixed a time limit [for repayment].

When the time came [for repayment] and no rain had yet fallen the nobleman sent a message to him in the morning: Return to me either the water or the money that you owe me.

Nakdimon replied: I have still time, the whole day is mine.

At midday he [again] sent to him a message, Return to me either the water or the money that you owe me. Nakdimon replied: I still have time today.

In the afternoon he [again] sent to him a message, Return to me either the water or the money that you owe me.

Nakdimon replied, I still have time today. Thereupon the lord sneeringly said to him, Seeing that no rain has fallen throughout the whole year will it then rain now? Thereupon he departed in a happy mood to the baths.

Meanwhile, while the nobleman went gleefully to the baths, Nakdimon entered the Temple distraught. He wrapped himself in his talis and stood up to pray. He said, "Master of the Universe! It is revealed and known before You that I have not done this for my honor nor for the honor of my father's house, but for Your honor have I done this in order that water be available for the Pilgrims." Immediately the sky became covered with clouds and rain fell until the twelve wells were filled with water and there was much overflow.

As the nobleman came out of the baths Nakdimon ben Gurion came out from the Temple and the two met, and Nakdimon said to the nobleman, Give me the money for the extra water that you have received. The latter replied, I know that the Holy One, blessed be He, disturbed the [natural] running of the world just for your sake, yet my claim against you for the money still holds good, for the sun had already set and consequently the rain fell in my possession.

Nakdimon thereupon again entered the Temple and wrapped himself in his talis and stood up to pray and said, "Master of the Universe! Make it known that You have beloved ones In Your world." Immediately the clouds dispersed and the [setting] sun broke through. Thereupon the nobleman said to him, Had not the sun broken through I would still have had a claim against you entitling me to exact my money from you.

It has been taught: His name was not Nakdimon but Boni and he was called Nakdimon because the sun had broken through [nikdera] on his behalf.

Upon studying this gemara, one will find that besides the actual miracle that the sun broke through the clouds for Nakdimon, we also see how he merited the miracle: via the strength of his bitachon. When he went to the nobleman he had no intention of paying him the 12 talents of silver. He had such firm bitachon, he knew with absolute certainty that the wells would be full of water. He was so sure of this, he was willing to promise the nobleman. However, the nobleman didn't believe in miracles. Therefore in order to get him to agree to loan him the wells, he promised him 12 talents of silver as payment. How could Nakdimo ben Gurion put so much money on the line and be so sure that the wells would fill with water? After all, it hadn't rained the whole year. Anyone else would have given up. Who could believe that suddenly, at such a late hour, the skies would become dark with clouds and a rain-storm would fill 12 empty wells.

Nakdimon ben Gurion knew that Klal Yisroel needed water in order to make the pilgrimage to Yerushalayim on Yom Tov. This idea was so clear to him it was a certainty. It had to rain. And even though it had not rained the whole year, yet he never entertained any doubt it might not rain. He didn't go into the Beis Hamikdash to daven for rain, not before that day, and not in the morning, and not in the afternoon. Since Hakadosh Baruch Hu wants Klal Yisroel to come up to Yerushalayim for Yom Tov, it had to rain. He didn't have to daven for it. As long as there was still time for it to rain naturally, he was sure it would rain. Just like a person is certain at night that the sun will rise tomorrow.

"In the late afternoon… and Nakdimon entered the Beis Hamikdash." If all that time he was absolutely certain it would rain, why did he start davening now?

In spite of his elevated level of bitachon, he suspected that perhaps there was a blemish in his bitachon. Perhaps he had a fleeting thought that the rain would fall because of his wonderful bitachon; as if he had brought the rain down. Perhaps his bitachon was accompanied by a little ego. Therefore he went into the Beis Hamikdash in order to uproot any suspicion of such a self-centered thought. His tefilla was "not in my honor, but for Your honor! Show Your love of Your people Israel."

Do What You Can

There is a second lesson we can learn from the story of the Chashmonaim: they lit the menorah with a small jar of oil in spite of the fact that it held only enough oil for one day.

This action should indicate to us the substance of our avodah. We have to instill within ourselves the courage to act even when we see no purpose in our actions. A mitzvah is a mitzvah!

Sometimes a person starts thinking: anyway I won't be able to finish this mitzvah, so why start? The common folk saying is, don't start something you can't finish. The actions of the Chashmonaim, by lighting the menorah, should encourage us to rid our minds of this thought. They took just a little bit of oil that was left, and lit the Menorah. The result: they merited the miracle that it stayed lit for 8 days.

Whenever one has to do any mitzvah, don't be taken in by the fact that it seems futile and you won't accomplish much; or maybe everyone will just laugh at you. When these types of thoughts hinder a person from action, it is a sign that he will never be able to stand up to any nisayon his entire life. Our job is just to do whatever is within our power without looking at any hindrance. This is the way to merit siyata d'shamya and see the fruit of our labors.

Many individuals go out into the world fully committed and intending to act honestly. And yet in the course of time we find them stuck in the middle of their path. They can't continue on and they fail. Why? Because when they encountered a nisayon regarding their kavod or their gashmius. They didn't have enough courage to withstand their yetzer hora. And so they fell and failed to carry out their goal as they had planned. If only they would risen up to the challenge they would have been successful in continuing on in the straight path.

How many people do we find taking on commitments on Yom Kippur and after a while their plans just fizzle out. If you investigate you'll find that somewhere along the way they encountered a nisayon to which they couldn't stand up. And since then they gave up their commitments.

The courage of the Chashmonaim should be an example to us how to realize immense success. Such is the power within a person to arrive at complete bitachon. The power of staying firm and constantly rising up to the challenge until one reaches the heights.

Wishing everyone a Gut Shabbos!

© Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
4 Panim Meirot, Jerusalem 94423 Israel
Tel: 732-858-1257
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop Lakewood).
If you would like to correspond with Rabbi Parkoff, or change your subscription, please contact:

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel